Home Theater Review's Best of 2013 Awards
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Value, performance, and cutting-edge technology headline the 2013 HomeTheaterReview.com Best of Awards. Of the 43 products included on our list, 29 are priced below $2,000 per component (or pair of speakers); 19 are retail-priced below $1,000, with no component even coming close to the $10,000 mark this year. This shows a significant move in the industry toward value. Plasma HDTVs make a big splash on the list, perhaps for the last time - given Panasonic's confirmed departure from plasma production and the arrival of big-screen OLED TVs on the market. If you are looking for the best products in the specialty audio/video world, you've found your resource.
• See what rated the best last year in the Best of 2012 Awards.
• Explore more in our Bookshelf Speaker and Floorstanding Speaker Review sections.
• See more video products in our HDTV, Video Projector, and Projector Screen sections.
Google Chromecast Wireless Media Bridge - $35
Google is shaking things up with its uber-affordable media dongle. Part streaming media player, part wireless video transmitter, and part control system, the Chromecast is hard to classify but very easy to love. This little device delivers the simple computer/Web/TV convergence we've been waiting for - all for about the cost of a petit filet mignon at Ruth's Chris.
GIK Acoustics Scatter Plate - $49
Room acoustics are the most overlooked element of both audiophile and home theater systems, and they might be the most important way to get great sound in your specific room. GIK's scatter plate is an add-on option to the many tools in GIK's acoustic arsenal, costing just $49 each. It's a simple tool to help you design an AV room with professional room tuning without breaking the bank.
Roku 3 Streaming Media Player - $100
There's no shortage of options when it comes to picking a streaming media player, but Roku leads the pack with its vast selection of apps, its speed and stability, and its great user experience. The Roku 3 is the most expensive of Roku's standalone set-top boxes, adding perks like wired Ethernet connectivity, a USB port, and a great motion-controlled remote.
Westone Adventure Series ADV Alpha Earphones - $250
Headphones are a boom industry today, with a lot of options for every type of shopper. Westone's in-ear Adventure Series ADV Alphas are aimed at the active/sports market. They're well built and comfortable, and they offer good performance, to boot.
EMP Tek E5Bi Bookshelf Speakers - $250 per pair
Selling speakers Internet-direct is all the rage these days, and this is where many of our readers go to get the best value and killer customer support. RBH has entered the fray with its new EMP Tek brand, and the E5Bi bookshelf speakers we reviewed did not fail to impress.
Pioneer SP-FS52 Floorstanding Speakers - $260 per pair
These speakers may be priced like the ones sold by the guy in the white van at the supermarket, but they sure don't perform that way. Several of our reviewers commented that these might be the best budget tower speakers ever. If you're trying to assemble a great audio or HT system on a limited budget, look no further.
Visual Apex VAPEX9100SE Electric Screen - $279
Visual Apex might be better known as a projector retailer that sells Epson, BenQ, Panasonic, and other high-value projectors. But don't discount the company's in-house line of affordable screens, which are priced to be game changers. This 100-inch, 16:9, motorized screen offers good performance and a ton of user-friendly features for less than $300.
Aperion Allaire ARIS Wireless Tabletop Speaker - $297-$374
We're not sure which aspect of the ARIS impressed us more - its versatility or its sound quality. Connect audio sources via the basic aux input, or step up in price to add Bluetooth and/or DLNA streaming. This well-built, stylish tabletop speaker has great dynamic ability and surprisingly good bass for its size.
Vizio S4251w-B4 Soundbar - $330
A soundbar with dedicated surrounds and a wireless subwoofer for $330? How good could it possibly be? Turns it, Vizio's S4251w-B4 is pretty darn good, offering dynamic, enveloping sound in a package that's easy to set up and use.
Paradigm Atom Bookshelf Speakers - $398 per pair
Paradigm continues to refine its most affordable and most lauded bookshelf speaker. It's hard to imagine how the Canadian speaker company keeps eking better performance out of such small speakers, but they do. The impressive little Atom packs a lot of performance for not a lot of money.
Aperion Audio Intimus 5B Bookshelf Speakers - $430 per pair
Portland's king of Internet-direct speakers always delivers on value, but we discovered that the well-built Intimus 5B bookshelf speakers also deliver on performance. These would make a great foundation for a low-profile multichannel HT system.
Parasound Zdac Digital-to-Analog Converter - $475
Don't call it a comeback because standalone DACs have been around for a long time, but perhaps no other product is as relevant today as the USB-equipped DAC. What would have cost you $5,000 a few years ago costs one tenth of that today. The $475 Zdac is a true overachiever whose performance bests that of much more expensive DACs.
Emotiva UPA-700 Seven-Channel Amplifier - $499
There's no denying that Internet-direct company Emotiva makes the products that the hardcore fanboys swoon for, and who can blame them? The seven-channel UPA-700 offers impressive performance given its $499 asking price. Consider this amp the Adcom for a new generation.
Onkyo TX-NR626 AV Receiver - $599
Onkyo is a stalwart in the category of affordable AV receivers, and the TX-NR626 is another example why. This $599 7.2-channel receiver is loaded with all the latest and greatest AV and networking features, it's simple to use, and it offers very good performance for the price.
Emotiva UMC-200 AV Preamp - $599
Locked in bitter trench warfare with Outlaw Audio's 975 AV Preamp, the Emotiva UMC-200 is a vast upgrade over the company's previous high-value AV preamps. Seemingly gone are the firmware glitches, and what's left is one of the best values in the entire AV preamp market.
Red Dragon Audio M500MkII Monaural Amplifier - $799
Red Dragon Audio is another Utah-based audiophile company, along with Wilson, Kimber Kable, Tekton, RBH, and others. The M500MkII mono block is a digital amp with a warm sound and loads of power for a price that won't send you to the poor house.
Paradigm Soundtrack Soundbar - $799
Form factor is more and more of an issue with today's flat HDTV installations, which is why Paradigm cooked up the slick Soundtrack soundbar. Take the sound quality you expect from a pair of Paradigm Atoms, add in a wireless subwoofer, and make the speakers as flat as your TV, and you can see where this system fits into the marketplace.
Noble Fidelity L-85 Mk II In-Ceiling Speakers - $899 per pair
For in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, there might not be a more hip, helpful, and audiophile-savvy player in the space. The L-85 Mk II offers spectacular performance, and you won't likely find any company that's more willing to help you make the most of your speaker placement, setup, and installation. Add in green building advantages and sustainability, and you've got a winner with Noble Fidelity.
GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array Soundbar - $999
Don't let the name "soundbar" scare you off. The three-in-one SuperCinema 3D Array is about as close as you can come to true L/C/R performance in a soundbar's uber-compact design. It's a great pick for someone who wants the form factor of a soundbar but places a higher priority on audio quality, both with movies and music.
Oppo BDP-105 Universal Blu-ray Disc Player - $1,199
Big brother to last year's "Best Of" entry, the BDP-103, the BDP-105 is more than just an audiophile-oriented universal disc player. It can also serve as an AV preamp, a high-performance DAC and headphone amp, a video switcher, and a media server, which actually makes that $1,199 asking price a true value.
Astell & Kern AK120 Portable Music Player - $1,299
We reviewed both the AK100 and AK120 players from Astell & Kern this year, and our nod goes to the AK120. You can enjoy a variety of file formats (including DSD 64x) at a resolution up to 192 kHz, and this model can also serve as a USB DAC. Its sound quality far surpasses that of any other portable player we've tested.
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD Universal Blu-ray Player - $1,299
On first glance, the 752BD seems very similar to Oppo's latest universal offerings, but Cambridge puts its own unique design touches on this product, including a different power supply and different audio circuitry and processing that create a different quality of sound. Compare and decide for yourself which brand you prefer.
See more of our Best of 2013 honorees on Page 2.